Travel most winemaking countries of the world, and you'll inevitably find a bottle of wine on every dinner table. It improves the food, cleanses the palate, aids digestion, and provides a mild social lubricant. The problem is, many of the really well-known wines load marketing costs into the bottle. So, for our end of the year roundup, we're giving you a list of great wines from four countries. All are under $25, some are under $10, and all are worthy of any dinner table. And best of all, these winemakers spend money putting quality wine in the bottle rather than cute girls on TV. Most of these recommended wineries are large enough that you will either be able to find them on the shelves locally or have your favorite shop order them.
France: Michel Chapoutier is one of the dominant forces in France's Rhône Valley. His wines from Ermitage and Côte Rôtie go for over $600 a bottle. In my opinion, his greatest achievement is Chapoutier Belleruche, a line of three inexpensive Côtes du Rhône wines. They are near perfect representations of Rhône wines in red, pink, and white versions, ranging from $10-15, depending on the store. Like all of these European wines, all you have to do is check a cookbook from the area and then rest assured the wines will fit those ingredients perfectly. Other French wineries to look for include Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Maison Louis Jadot, and Maison Joseph Drouhin.
Greece: The single best known name in Greek wines is Boutari. Their white bargain is made from and named after the Moschofilero ($14) grape. It's a chameleon that will go with anything, but I especially love it with a mild, dry cheese such as a good quality feta. Santorini ($18) is a white made from the Assyrtiko grape, and tastes like a decent $50 French wine. If you'd prefer a red wine, try their Boutari Naoussa ($15), or, for a treat, their Grande Reserve Naoussa ($22). Both have huge flavors and are perfect matches for rack of lamb or lamb shanks.
Italy: Banfi is one of the best large wineries in the world. They make dozens of exceptional wines on three different continents. Even better, they often produce similar quality wines for much less than their neighbors. In the region of Montalcino, they make a $70 Brunello that is competitive with some other $700 versions. But they really show their mastery in low price wines. Look in my refrigerator, and you're likely to find a bottle of Fontana Candida Frascati DOC Superiore ($8), a stunning wine with both fruit and minerality galore. For fans of Gavi (and you should be), Banfi's Principessa Gavia Gavi and Principessa Gavia Perlante both run about $12-14. The latter has just a small touch of fizziness that is delightful during a Texas hot spell. Rosé lovers should try Banfi's Tuscany Centine Rosé, also around $14.
Italy has so many bargains, so I must mention three other wineries that produce incredible bargains: the Barberas from Piemonte, Vietti, and the whole line of wines from Alois Lageder in Alto Adige, and Marco Felluga in Friuli and Collio. None of these wineries make a bad wine, and all of them make wines starting well under $20. And don't miss the Sauvignons from Felluga and Lageder. They will forever change your view of what a great Sauvignon Blanc tastes like.
Spain: This country is loaded with incredible bargains, but I want to focus on four wineries. El Coto de Rioja, Marqués de Caceres, and Bodegas Muga all make a range of white, Rosé, and red that run from $8-15. These are lusty Rioja wines that match up perfectly with our cuisine. I always have one of these Rosés in my refrigerator. Segura Viudas and Freixenet both make masterful sparkling wines in the $8-15 range that are competitive with all but the very finest Champagnes.
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